Everyone seems to have a food allergy these days. I have an allergy chart with my friends’ names on it, listing the various things they cannot eat — lest I have a dinner party where I am the only one enjoying my fine cuisine.
Wine may not be a food (though plenty of us would be happy to argue otherwise), but plenty of people think that it gives them headaches, stuffed noses, sneezing attacks and hives. Histamines contribute to this and, if you love red wine, you’re going to have to suffer (or load up on Benadryl, though in combination with wine, it will make you very drowsy). White wine has fewer histamines than reds because, generally, they are not fermented with their skin. The other culprit is sulphur.
All wines have sulfites, as it is a natural byproduct of fermentation. However, sulphur dioxide is almost always added to prevent wine from oxidation and bacterial infection. Some producers use more than others. If you have a sulphur allergy, you may not have a reaction to a lot of wines, as it is added in parts per million — but then again, you might. If you have the sniffles or wake up feeling like you have a cold the next morning, there is a chance sulphur is to blame.
I said almost always because there are a few producers throughout the world who do not add sulphur dioxide. You won’t really know when you buy a bottle because wine labeling requires stating that sulfites are added. Some wineries such as Frey in California pride themselves on not having additional sulfites, while others quietly go about their merry way making good wines that just happen to have nothing but naturally occurring sulphur dioxide.
Here are three that fall into this camp:
Marcel and Mathieu Lapierre (Beaujolais, France): Marcel Lapierre in Beaujolais started vinifying his wines without sulfites in 1981. He passed away last year, but his son, Mathieu, has taken over and continued his father’s practices that include organic and biodynamic viticulture. Located in Morgon, Lapierre’s wines have an intensity that is typical of the appellation, yet they also possess a deep sense of terroir. Fruit is not a shortage, after all, this is Beaujolais, but more so than most other producers in the neighborhood, Lapierre’s wines have many dimensions. Retails for $25 to $30
Catherine and Pierre Breton (Loire Valley, France): Catherine and Pierre Breton in Bourgueil use few to no sulfites and make some of the finest expressions of cabernet franc to be found anywhere. Besides Bourgueil, Breton also makes wine from Chinon and white from Vouvray. They have been practicing biodynamic viticulture since 1994. Retails for $20 to $35
Virgin Hills (Victoria, Australia): Virgin Hills is in one of Australia’s coolest wine regions, the Macedon Ranges in southern Victoria. Since 1968, just one wine has been made, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, merlot and malbec. Had they opted to break with tradition and use sulfites, the 1996 vintage could have been saved, but a bacterial spoilage won out and nature triumphed over nurture. Retails for $50
Pamela S. Busch is the owner of Skrewcap.com, founder of CAV Wine Bar and a Bay Area wine consultant. Please submit your questions to Pamela@Skrewcap.com.